Silicon Valley Women
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Silicon Valley Women
SAN FRANCISCO — On Sunday, Justin Caldbeck’s venture capital firm announced he had resigned after six women accused the Binary Capital partner of sexually harassing them.
Caldbeck’s quick ouster signaled the growing backlash against sexism and discrimination in the male-dominated technology industry that began in February when Susan Fowler, a former Uber software engineer, publicly detailed her experiences at the ride-hailing company. Fowler’s blog post set into motion the resignation of Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick and the firing of more than 20 employees.
“I think we are at a tipping point in the industry,” said Kate Mitchell of Scale Venture Partners, who chairs the diversity task force of the National Venture Capital Association. “I am hoping that we will not only see more women come out and be heard but also that men will stand up and say: This isn’t tolerable.”
For years overt sexism and gender bias were an open secret in Silicon Valley. Women rarely broke their silence, worried that coming forward could damage their careers.
Ellen Pao brought national attention to the challenges faced by women when she unsuccessfully sued her former employer, prominent venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, for gender discrimination. Women were riveted by the 2015 trial. Former Yahoo President Sue Decker wrote an essay for technology news website Recode that she obsessively followed the developments and took her daughters out of school to hear closing arguments. “I, and most women I know, have been a party to at least some sexist or discriminatory behavior in the workplace,” she wrote.
A survey of 210 women in Silicon Valley found that six out of 10 had experienced unwanted sexual advances. Yet it wasn’t until Fowler came forward that “women began to feel much more empowered,” Mitchell said.
Last week technology news website The Information published allegations from six women entrepreneurs that Caldbeck subjected them to unwanted sexual advances and other inappropriate behavior, often when he was in a position to help them financially.
Caldbeck specialized in early-stage consumer tech companies, leading investments in GrubHub and TaskRabbit.
Three of the women permitted the use of their real names in the article despite fears of reprisal.
Niniane Wang, founder and chief executive officer of start-up Evertoon, alleged Caldbeck made unwanted sexual advances while recruiting her for a job. She says she came forward to keep Caldbeck from harassing other women.
Susan Ho, co-founder of Journy, a travel agency for millennials, said the Binary Capital partner sent her text messages in the middle of the night suggesting they meet up while discussing a job at a start-up he was planning to fund. Leiti Hsu, also a co-founder of Journy, said Caldbeck grabbed her thigh under the table at a bar when they were talking about funding her start-up.
Last week Binary issued a statement saying allegations that Caldbeck engaged in “improper behavior” with women entrepreneurs was “false.”
Venture capitalist and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman reacted with outrage on social media.
“This is entirely immoral and outrageous behavior. And it falls to us to stand with you, to speak out, and to act,” he wrote in a LinkedIn post that called on venture capitalists to sign a #DecencyPledge.
By Sunday, Binary’s treatment of the report had reversed. The San Francisco venture capital firm broke ties with him and said it had retained law firm Gibson Dunn to conduct an independent investigation. It said venture capitalist Matt Mazzeo, who had recently joined the firm, had also resigned.
“I trusted my partner and it is clear that I shouldn’t have,” Binary Capital managing partner Jonathan Teo said in a statement. “The predatory behavior Justin has been accused of is deplorable, and there will be zero tolerance at our firm of any conduct that is demeaning to women.”
Teo also apologized “for our initial response to these allegations.”
Caldbeck initially denied the women’s allegations, then said he was “deeply disturbed” by them, then announced he would take an indefinite leave of absence from Binary Capital, the firm he co-founded. Caldbeck told Axios he would be “seeking professional counseling as I take steps to reflect on my behavior with and attitude towards women.”
Binary Capital has delayed closing its second fund, Axios reported. The venture capital firm raised $175 million for the fund last summer, but was seeking additional capital.
It’s not rare to find a women in technology who has a story of an unwanted advance or remark. But few have agreed to have their names published, held back by fear that in the clubby atmosphere of Silicon Valley, accusations would cut off access to capital and partnerships.
“Most men in the start-up world won’t speak on the record about a VC who treats them poorly,” tech journalist Sarah Lacy wrote in technology news outlet PandoDaily. “For three women to do so and risk the industry’s retaliation shows not only their courage, but the giant shift that’s taking place in Silicon Valley.”
Hsu and Ho are building their personal travel planner company. Hsu says they’d much rather focus on Journy but “we’re glad that the community is addressing this.”
“Let’s hope in the future that this doesn’t happen. Or if it does, it doesn’t take years for this behavior to be reported. And that initial responses from the firm and LPs (limited partners) are of outrage, not lukewarm denial,” she said.
Women speaking up, and men supporting them, are both crucial to improving conditions for women in Silicon Valley, says Aubrey Blanche, global head of diversity and inclusion at Atlassian and co-founder of Sycamore, which aims to fix the venture capital funding gap for underrepresented founders.
“It is clear that more women are speaking up and will continue,” Blanche said. “Men are also speaking out more in support, which is crucial as they still hold the majority of positions of power.”
More USA TODAY coverage of diversity and inclusion in the tech industry
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